Washington and Federal laws prohibit employers from terminating or otherwise discriminating against employees that engage in conduct protected by public policy. Those brave enough to take the initiative to report a wrongdoing should not be punished. Some examples of conduct that is protected by state and federal law include:
- Reporting Illegal activity by an employer or co-worker
- Reporting unlawful harassment
- Reporting unlawful discrimination
- Reporting conduct that is unethical, dangerous, or that affects public safety
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim
- Making complaints regarding overtime and payment of wages
- Whistleblowing under state and federal laws
Whistleblowing is a term that is used to describe someone that raises concern about conduct in an organization that he or she feels is unethical or wrong. This word is usually used to describe someone from working within the organization. Retaliation against a whistleblower when is prohibited and whistleblowers are protected under the law.
Washington Whistleblower Video
Washington state is at “at-will employment” state, meaning that an employment relationship can be terminated at any time, by either party, and for any reason. There are limits to this doctrine, however, and there are certain reasons for termination that have been proscribed, either by statute or by common law. Washington state recognizes a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, meaning that an employer may not terminate an employee for a reason contrary to public policy. In order to determine what “public policy” is, courts will look to see whether the legislature or courts have sought to encourage or discourage such conduct in the past. Therefore, an employee who is terminated for whistleblowing, alerting the public or authorities to unethical or illegal behavior, will likely be able to maintain a cause of action for wrongful discharge. In order to sustain such a claim, an employee must establish that:
- There is a clear public policy at issue
- Discouraging the employee’s conduct would jeopardize that public policy
- The conduct related to the public policy is the reason the employee was terminated
In addition to common law protections, Washington has also enacted the Washington State Whistleblower Act, which protects state employees who report improper governmental action. The act prohibits the state from taking retaliatory action against the whistleblower, including:
- Reduction in pay
- Denial of employment
These are just some of the ways in which a state agency or employer could retaliate against a whistleblower, and anyone who believes that they may have a claim should consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. If you believe that you have been retaliated or discriminated against due to whistleblowing, speak with a Washington employment law attorney from our firm immediately.
Understanding Qui Tam Lawsuits and Claims
When a lawsuit is filed under the Federal False Claims Act it is commonly referred to as a qui tam action or suit. This type of lawsuit is filed by a private citizen (also known as a “whistleblower”), on behalf of the government, against individuals or companies who are believed to have been participants in fraudulent government contracting practices. As a reward for the citizen standing up and doing the right thing by exposing the illegal action and fraud against the government, they are usually entitled to between 15-25% of the recovered penalty fees.
These lawsuits are most often based on multiple, significant violations of fraud or criminal acts. They are not based on minor or technical violations or errors. Any individual who has credible, verifiable information about fraudulent claims for federal funds may file a qui tam action via an attorney. It is of note that qui tam suits are initially kept under seal for 60 days so the Department of Justice can investigate, review and determine if they too will join the suit.
If you feel you have credible information and wish to file a qui tam lawsuit, you need to consult with a Washington employment law attorney from our firm right away. Don’t let an employer intimidate you because you have chosen to do the right thing and file a qui tam action. We can help you not only prepare your case but protect you from a wrongful discharge or other retaliation in violation of state and federal employment regulations.
Examples of What Would Constitute a Qui Tam Suit
While individuals or companies may make minor technical violations or errors now and again, significant and continuous attempts to fraudulently gain funds from the government are grounds for qui tam suits. Some examples of what would be grounds for a qui tam suit are:
- Multiple fraudulent health care or Medicare claims
- Massive or continuous overcharging for items or services
- Extensive and intentional exaggeration of time spent with clients/patients
- Severe underpayment of royalties owed
- Payment received for knowingly defective products supplied to the government
- Misallocation or redirection of funds specifically approved for another project or program
Qui Tam Laws in Washington
Though the state of Washington currently has no law regarding qui tam lawsuits in general, a law was passed in 2012 that protected employees bringing qui tam suits against employers specifically regarding fraudulent healthcare claims. Passage of the False Claims Act made Washington the 29th state to enact some type of qui tam law. The law specifically allows whistleblowers to bring suit in the name of the State of Washington where a wrongdoer engages in conduct that defrauds the state or local government of its healthcare dollars, and is directed toward preventing Medicaid fraud. Though the law does not cover qui tam suits regarding other types of fraud, many political and legal experts believe that the False Claims Act is a step in the right direction and will lead to further, broader qui tam laws.
The False Claims Act was passed after data showed that the Washington state government lost approximately five billion dollars due to false Medicaid claims. The law does not apply to simple clerical or billing errors, but refers to actually fraudulent claims made with the intent of receiving unearned government dollars. Protected employees include whistleblowers who report fraudulent activity to government authorities and/or bring qui tam actions against an employer in good faith. The employer may not fire, demote, nor treat such an employee in a discriminatory fashion or retaliate against that employee in any manner. Once a claim is made, a false claims act investigator will conduct a thorough investigation regarding the allegations. Even if a fraudulent Medicaid claim is ultimately unsubstantiated, the employee will be protected under Washington law as long as the allegation was made in good faith.
Experienced Employment Law Representation
HKM Employment Attorneys has provided countless clients with a high quality of legal representation. Employees are benefited by our extensive background in employee law. We have assisted in all matters pertaining to whistleblower claims including wrongful discharge and retaliation in violation of federal law. Our firm has handled discrimination and whistleblower claims at all stages including litigation. We are able to quickly analyze an employment law case and develop a successful approach that encompasses all areas of the claim. This is just one of the reasons why are focused on employment law. If you have any questions regarding a whistleblower claim or any other employment law matter, speak with a highly skilled attorney from our firm today.
Contact a Washington whistleblower claims attorney from the firm today so that your case can be reviewed immediately.